How to Boost Your Fiber Intake

Break out of that brown rice rut—and reap more health benefits—with these interesting whole grains

overhead view of bowl with grains and vegetables with basil, fork and lemon on surface Photo: Nataša Mandić/Stocksy

Tired of hearing about the importance of getting more fiber in your diet? We get it. Whole-wheat bread and brown rice aren’t always the most exciting picks, and they can sometimes taste ho-hum.

But most of us could use a little nudge towards boosting our fiber intake. Less than 10 percent of adults in the U.S. meet the daily requirement for fiber. For women, that’s 28 grams between ages 19 to 30; 25 grams for those ages 31 to 50; and 22 grams over age 50.  For men, it’s 34 grams between ages 19 to 30; 31 grams for those ages 31 to 50; and 28 grams over age 50. 

Making the most of the whole grains you eat can go a long way toward closing the fiber gap. Plus, they serve up other key nutrients for your health, says Rachele Dependahl, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. There are interesting, delicious, and easy-to-prepare grains that you may not have tried yet.

Whole-Grain Health Perks

People tend to eat more refined grains, such as white bread and the white flour in baked goods, than products made from whole grains. But the process that makes these products soft and fluffy strips away the grain’s nutrient-rich layers, the bran and germ. “Much of the fiber, iron, and B vitamins are lost,” says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.

More on Healthy Eating

Getting enough of the whole stuff is important for healthy aging. Although whole grains won’t turn back the clock, they can improve your well-being and fend off chronic diseases as you grow older. Eating more of them may even lengthen your life.

A review of 45 studies published in 2016 in the journal BMJ concluded that a diet high in whole grains reduced the risk of early death by up to 17 percent, likely due to their protective effect against cancer, diabetes, and other conditions. Here’s the whole picture of the benefits of whole grains.

• A boon for weight control: “Whole grains are higher in fiber than refined grains, so they take longer to digest and help you feel full longer,” says Viola Holmes, RD, associate director of nutrition science and health care for the American Diabetes Association. Research also suggests that they speed metabolism and take more calories to digest than refined ones, which may help with weight loss.

Type 2 diabetes protection: Harvard scientists found that people who ate about two servings of whole grains daily had a 29 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared with those who consumed less than a serving. (A serving is a half-cup of cooked grains, a slice of whole-grain bread, or a cup of ready-to-eat whole-grain cereal.) Because fiber takes longer to break down, whole grains don’t spike blood sugar as much as other carbs, Holmes says. While it’s a good move to switch from white bread, cereal, and pasta to wholegrain versions, eating grains in their intact (whole-kernel) form can be even better for your health. A 2020 study in the journal Diabetes Care found that eating intact grains led to better glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes compared with eating more processed whole-grain foods.

• Help for your heart: A 2021 study from Tufts University found that adults middle-aged and older who averaged three or more servings of whole grains daily over the average 18-year study period had smaller increases in markers of heart problems—waist size, blood pressure, and blood sugar—compared with those who had less than half a serving. According to a research review published in 2016 in The BMJ, upping your whole-grain intake by three servings a day may lower the risk of heart disease by more than 20 percent. Whole grains also provide iron, and not getting enough of this mineral is linked to heart disease and heart failure.

• Better gut health: Fiber adds bulk to your stool and softens it, which fends off constipation. “It also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut,” Patton says. She adds that having more “good” bacteria may protect against digestive problems and strengthen your immune system.

• Reduced cancer risk: Eating about three servings of whole grains a day lowers the odds of developing colorectal cancer by 17 percent, according to a report from the American Institute for Cancer Research. This may be because fiber speeds the transit time through the GI tract, lessening exposure to cancer-causing compounds. The nutrients and antioxidants in whole grains may also protect against the damage and cellular changes that may lead to cancer. An analysis of research published in the journal Nutrients in 2020 showed that eating whole grains regularly protects against stomach, pancreatic, and esophageal cancer and other forms of the disease.

5 Fiber Superstars

You can add more variety to your meals—and boost your intake of fiber and other important nutrients—with these less-common whole grains. Each offers its own unique flavor, texture, and nutrition profile.

Amaranth
Benefits
Amaranth has a mild earthy flavor and slight crunch. It’s loaded with protein (9 grams per cup) and fiber (5 grams per cup). It’s also rich in minerals, including iron, magnesium, and calcium.
How to Use It
Rinse amaranth under running water before cooking to remove its bitter-tasting coating called saponin. Try serving it as a breakfast porridge: Boil one part amaranth and three parts of water. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cinnamon, honey, and a little milk.
Black Rice
Benefits
Also called “forbidden rice,” this grain tastes similar to brown rice but with a chewier bite. The inky color comes from anthocyanins, the same heart-healthy antioxidants found in berries. According to a 2013 study in the journal Food Chemistry, black rice also has lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants protect against some eye diseases.
How to Use It
You can swap your regular white or brown rice for black in any dish. Its plump, dense texture works well in grain bowls and salads. Try combining it with chicken, oranges, edamame, and cilantro, and dress with lemon juice and olive oil.
Bulgur
Benefits
This nutty-tasting grain is made from cracked wheat kernels. Because it’s partly cooked and then dried, bulgur cooks in less than 15 minutes. One cup cooked has 8 grams of fiber and 14 percent of the daily value of heart-healthy magnesium. It’s also a good source of phenols, antioxidant compounds that may protect against type 2 diabetes and cancer.
How to Use It
Try bulgur in place of rice in stir-fries, pilafs, and stews. Or whip up a Mediterranean tabbouleh salad: Toss cooked bulgur with chopped parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Buckwheat
Benefits
Pancakes and Japanese soba noodles are familiar ways of eating buckwheat. But the pyramid-shaped kernels, called groats, also make a delicious, earthy-tasting dish. A cup of cooked buckwheat has 5 grams of fiber and is high in rutin, an antioxidant that may improve markers of heart health, a 2015 Chinese study found.
How to Use It
Try buckwheat flour in a pancake or waffle recipe. Serve cooked groats as a simple side dish. To bring out the flavor, toast them first. Place them in a skillet over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes, and then proceed with your recipe.
Kamut
Benefits
This large-grained wheat dates back to ancient Egypt. It contains 17 percent more protein and more antioxidants than modern-day wheat. Italian scientists found that people who ate kamut bread, pasta, and crackers had lower cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation markers in two months
How to Use It
Kamut’s firm texture holds up in stews, soups, salads, and casseroles, so it won’t get mushy, says Rachele Dependahl, a dietitian. The buttery flavor goes well with eggplant and tomatoes, carrots, butternut squash, and even fruit such as cherries, plums, and dried apricots.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the May 2022 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.


Sharon Liao

Sharon Liao

Sharon Liao is a writer and editor specializing in health, nutrition, and fitness. She lives in Redondo Beach, Calif.